There was one must-have item on my last (quite possibly last as in my final trip ever) trip to Mogadishu, the “Beautiful Mogadishu” T-shirt. They came in two designs, one featuring a smiling camel and a second featuring the simple star of Somalia. And they came in two sizes, small and not-quite-big enough. I bought two and congratulated myself on picking up such a neat piece of wearable irony.
But of course Mogadishu was once beautiful. On another trip I’d had a chance to make it to the northern part of the city and wandered around the bombed-out Italianate hotels that line the waterfront. A Catholic cathedral just about retained some of its grandeur – if not its stained glass – even after 16 years of fighting. My driver cried with joy: he had not been able to visit this part of town through all the different wars.
And once there was music. Seriously good music, if VOA’s African Music Treasures is anything to go by.
Matthew Lavoie has put together a bunch of singles from the Light and Sound label, run from an electronics shop in the city in the 1970s, which bring back memories for his friends who once lived there.
They remember a city where young women in miniskirts strolled alongside older women in colorful and billowing Direh, where young dudes grew Afros and strutted, in bell bottoms, past groups of men in ma’awis kilts and white skullcaps. Today, living far from Mogadishu, these friends and colleagues feed their memories with a steady diet of thirty-year old recordings by their favorite poets and singers from ‘back home’.
That’s the sort of thing that’s worth remembering the next time we hear about another bombing. Or more deaths. Or another government bust-up. Tomorrow in other words.